14-Year-Old Autistic Boy Finds Happiness through Art

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John was having a difficult time trying to communicate and demonstrated a tendency to act rather aggressively. However, this all changed once he discovered his passion towards painting. Continue reading

How Wrestling Empowered a Student with Autism to Interact with the World

Wresting with AutismParents of a child on the autism spectrum understand the importance and difficulty of keeping their child engaged with the world around them. Kurt Janicki, the father of an autistic child, was struggling with his son’s tendency to disconnect and drift away from the present moment. Mr. Janicki was looking for ways to get his son to interact with his surroundings and he couldn’t have imagined an answer to his dreams would come in the sport of wrestling. The unexpected life-changing event took place when his son, Erik Janicki, was watching the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament. It was right in that moment that he realized he wanted to participate in his high school’s wrestling program. Ever since, Erik has been connected to the world thanks to his passionate interest in the sport. 

“If you let him, his world would close in on him. If you don’t keep him connected to the world around him, he would close in on himself in a heartbeat, and he would continue to do that.”, said Mr. Janicki. The ease in which Erik retreats back into his shell is what has made his discovery of wrestling that much more significant. He’s now known to be “Coach Erik” within his teammates and his involvement in the sport has given him an opportunity to better himself. As one of the coaches, Erik’s responsibilities include helping the head coach run practices and delivering motivational speeches to the team before their scheduled meets. 

Erik’s father participated in the same high school’s wrestling program back in the 1980’s and he was able to reach the Middlesex County Wrestling Tournament. “The thing about wrestling – you know how personal and emotional it can be – and Erik watches the journey that each one of these young men takes. He connects with them, and he’s emotionally invested in it”, explained Kurt Janicki. He was pleased, even shocked, by the offer of South River head coach Bobby Young to integrate Erik into the team by making him a coach. He thought his son was going to be on the sidelines and was gratifyingly surprised to see he truly was going to form an integral part of the experience. 

Erik’s parents look forward to a future where he can continue to thrive and grow as a person. His involvement and excitement as one of the wrestling coaches have installed a positive outlook into his transition to adulthood. They hope to continue to bring down the barrier that sometimes blocks their son from interacting independently with the world but remain optimistic. Mr. Janicki has some inspiring words of advice to other parents with children on the autism spectrum. He says, “They are wonderful gifts in your life. Don’t hide them from the world. Take time to let them teach you about yourself and about them.”

For additional information, please click here

By Edgar Catasus

Creativity and it’s Connection with Autism

Edgar's Blog Image Feb 3A recent research study conducted by psychologists from the University of East Anglia in England have discovered a surprising link between creativity and autism. Their study has uncovered that individuals on the autism spectrum produce original and unusual ideas to a particular problem more frequently. At the same time, they’re also more likely to respond fewer times to the same problem. This unique way of processing information is called divergent thinking.

The study examined individuals who demonstrate certain behavior patterns and thoughts that are related to autism without being diagnosed with the condition. The purpose was to show how some traits associated with autism can be beneficial and not harmful to the development of a person. “People with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity, but greater quality of creative ideas”, says Dr. Martin Doherty from UEA’s School of Psychology. 

The study consisted of a series of tests in order to determine the participant’s level of creativity when solving a certain task. Out of the study’s 312 participants, 75 of them were on the autism spectrum disorder. They were instructed to come up with alternative uses for a brick or a paper clip. Four or more uses meant that the individual was likely to display more autistic traits. The test also consisted on showing the participants four abstract drawings in which they had to give as many as ideas possible in just under one minute of time. Again, the more number of ideas produced were related to a higher level of autistic traits. 

Even though most persons would go for cognitively simple answers at first, those that exhibit autistic traits go straight for the more complex and demanding strategies. According to Dr. Doherty, this means “people with autistic traits may approach creativity problems in a different way”. Noted celebrities such as Temple Grandin and Stephen Wiltshire are prime examples of individuals diagnosed with autism who are yet immensely creative to their dedicated field of profession. This remarkable link between creativity and autism is helping researchers understand the brain better and they are hoping future findings can aid persons that are on and off the autism spectrum. 

By Edgar Catasus

For additional information, please visit: http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/08/16/the-link-between-autism-and-creativity/90899.html

The Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for Children with Autism

120380-320x212-SwimLearning and acquiring new skills can be a difficult thing to master for any child, but for those diagnosed with autism it can be especially challenging. Simple tasks and daily activities become overwhelming for children with special needs and as a result life can turn into a series of obstacles. Researchers around the globe are aware of the challenges those with autism face and have been working diligently to make significant advances in order to enhance their quality of life.

The latest breakthrough comes in the form of aquatic therapy. What is traditionally used as a method for physical rehabilitation and fitness improvement can now aid a child with autism. Water, the most basic element that sustains life on Earth, can positively impact a child with autism’s cognitive growth. Aquatic therapy is one of the recreational treatments that may develop delayed cognitive functioning.

Even though those with autism suffer from pervasive neurobiological deficiencies, the pressure of water can be incredibly soothing and provide a lasting sense of relief for the autistic child. Another aspect of water that can make a difference lies in its temperature. Warm water creates a relaxed learning environment for the child as they have a tendency to overreact to tactile stimuli. It’s helpful for the autistic child to experience the stimuli in order to make progress.

Aquatic therapy is beneficial for the child because it’s not overwhelming and at the same time it facilitates their need for sensory stimulation to develop their processing tolerance to a higher level. In other words, water provides just the right amount of exterior interaction best apt for learning. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a negative reaction to the water doesn’t necessarily mean aquatic therapy will not be fit for that child. On the contrary, the child needs to experience the sensory input in order to be able to process it. In fact, many clinicians reported the child was able to tolerate touch better after receiving treatment.

Another factor that contributes to aquatic therapy being beneficial for the autistic child is its in reduction of stress. Water makes the body feel 90% lighter and in return it reduces stress on the body during therapeutic exercises. Water reduces tension in the muscles and calms those children that deal with anxiety. Many children enjoy the peaceful aquatic environment and take their time to develop their abilities in the water. As an added bonus, it can also improve the child’s eating and sleeping habits by cutting their excess energy. Aquatic therapy is a welcome addition to the already large repertoire of treatments that can improve a child with autism’s lifestyle. Even though researchers are currently investigating more of its perks, the studies accumulated so far indicate a positive trend.

For additional information: http://www.recreationtherapy.com/articles/autismandquatictherapy.htm

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Edgar Catasus

Scientists Discover a Brain Link to Autism

In a recent study published in the journal Current Biology, Harvard scientists have discovered a link between a specific neurotransmitter with behavior associated with Autism. By use of a visual test that elicits different reactions in brains with Autism and brains without Autism, the Harvard Society of Fellows was able to show that the differences were associated with a breakdown in the signaling pathway used by GABA, one of the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitters.

Caroline Robertson, a junior fellow, details the important discovery in Autism research:

“This is the first time, in humans, that a neurotransmitter in the brain has been linked to autistic behavior – full stop. This theory that the GABA signaling pathways plays a role in autism has been shown in animal morobertson-300x200dels, but until now we never had evidence for it actually causing autistic differences in humans.”

Robertson said the finding offers insight into the disorder and the role neurotransmitters play in it. The discovery also suggests that similar visual tests could be used to screen younger children for autism, which would allow parents and clinicians to intervene sooner.

The team utilized what is called a binocular rivalry test. An easily replicable test, it produces consistent results in people with and without Autism. Robertson describes the test:

“The end result is that one image is just suppressed entirely from visual awareness for a short period. So if I show you a picture of a horse and an apple, the horse will entirely go away, and you will just see the apple. Eventually, though, the neurons that are forcing that inhibitory signal get tired, and it will switch until you only see the horse. As the process repeats, the two images will rock back and forth. Where the average person might rock back and forth between the two images every three seconds, an autistic person might take twice as long.”

Robertson cautions that understanding the signaling pathway for GABA will not be a direct cure for autism. Excited about the recent study, she explains how there are many molecule in the brain that may be associated with Autism in some form, and there is more research to be done.

“We’re not done screening the autistic brain for other possible pathways that may play a role. But this is one, an we feel good about this one.”